Abstract: Why are political brokers responsive to some voters in their localities and not others? Scholarship on clientelism has yet to systematically identify the preferences shaping variable broker responsiveness. Existing accounts anticipate brokers will prefer co-partisans and co-ethnics, whose reciprocity they can most confidently monitor. We argue brokers also prefer voters best positioned to maximize their reputations for efficacy. We test our theory through a conjoint experiment with archetypical brokers in the developing world: urban slum leaders. We surveyed 629 slum leaders in two Indian cities, where we also conducted ethnographic fieldwork, elite interviews, and a survey of 2,199 slum residents. This multifaceted data provides strong evidence of reputational concerns driving broker responsiveness. We find more mixed evidence of brokers prioritizing monitoring concerns, highlighted by a marked absence of ethnic favoritism. Our findings suggest extant literature overemphasizes brokers’ episodic roles as electoral monitors, while underemphasizing their everyday roles as problem-solving entrepreneurs.
Who Do Brokers Serve? Reputation and Responsiveness in India’s Urban Slums